Centering the Land: The Importance of Acknowledging Indigenous Land and Lifeways

  • Do we really have to say the land acknowledgement statement before every presentation at Convention?
  • Isn’t one time enough? What really is the point?
  • I’ve said the land acknowledgement in my first presentation at Convention, why do I need to say it again?

In the past two years, I can recall hearing similar statements after attending ACPA Conventions in both Montreal and Columbus. I was open to these frustrations, but I often come back to the thought that a simple land acknowledgement statement is not much to ask considering Indigenous Peoples in North America have been enduring over 500 years of forced assimilation and cultural genocide. Additionally, the practice of a formal welcome and territory acknowledgement is not a new tradition in Indian Country. Our nations have always formally welcomed and acknowledged land territories when hosting visitors and when traveling to neighboring tribal communities. Land is not just merely space that bodies occupy; it is a depository of culture, story, history and tradition.

Indigenous Peoples view themselves as stewards of the land and as an Anishinaabekwe (an Anishinaabe woman), I was taught to not only care for and tend to the land, but the importance of learning from my ancestral territory. The beautiful community I grew up in in Northern Michigan, surrounded by white birch trees and the Great Lakes, continues to teach me and my family about our Anishinaabeg identity, culture and history. When I was young and attending powwows with my family, my grandmother always told me that when we dance, our feet must always be touching the ground. As a song is finishing up and that last drum beat sounds, all dancers must stop with both feet directly down on the earth. It is important to honor the land that not only sustains our physical being, but our cultural and spiritual lives as well.

What exactly is a land acknowledgement? According to the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG), a land acknowledgement is “a formal statement that recognizes the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.” Recognizing the traditional lands of a tribal community allows for an expression of gratitude and appreciation as well as a way to honor and understand the history of that specific tribal nation. The use of a land acknowledgement statement also encourages individuals to think about what it means to occupy space on Indigenous lands. The acknowledgment of traditional territories ultimately provides exposure and a learning opportunity for individuals who may have never heard the names of the tribes that have and continue to live and learn from the land they are standing on.

Although land acknowledgement statements may have an official sounding tone to them, they are not something that you just “do” and must be rooted in mindfulness, reflection and intentionality. As you read and listen to a land acknowledgement, take a moment to reflect upon the land you are standing on and the tribal nations associated with this space. Use the land acknowledgement to guide action and conversation in continuing discussions centered in honoring the land and decolonization. Also, land acknowledgements may appear to focus on the historical context of traditional territories, but they do not exist in the past tense. Colonialism is a current and ongoing process. Our territories have and continue to exist in a colonized space. The ritual and repetitive nature of welcoming and acknowledging territory is not only Indigenous protocol, but the practice establishes a respectful routine and habit of offering reconciliation. Acknowledging the land is a transformative act that works to undo the intentional erasure of Indigenous peoples from the nationalist colonial narrative and is the first step in decolonizing land relations.

As we prepare for the ACPA18 Convention in Houston, it is important to remember that land acknowledgement is a crucial and essential piece of the decolonization process.  For those of you who are navigating the ACPA’s Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization, a land acknowledgment is just one of the many tangible action steps that support the process of dismantling racial and colonized oppression within higher education. I encourage everyone to not only think about the land and space that we will be occupying in Houston this March, but to also critically examine your own institution and its practices of honoring Indigenous lands and nations.

Land Acknowledgement | ACPA18 Convention

ACPA-College Student Educators International would like to acknowledge that the land we are meeting on today has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst a number of Indigenous peoples, specifically the Apache, Caddo, Comanche, Kiowa and Wichita nations. Additionally, Texas is home to the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, the Lipan Apache Tribe, and the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians. ACPA-College Student Educators International honors and respects the diverse Indigenous peoples connected to this territory on which we gather.

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Melissa Beard Jacob (Awunkoquay – Woman in the Fog) is eagle clan and an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She currently serves as an Intercultural Specialist to Native American and Indigenous students through the Student Life Multicultural Center at The Ohio State University and is a PhD Candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University. She is finishing her dissertation entitled, “Reclaiming My Family’s Story: Cultural Trauma and Indigenous Ways of Knowing.” Additionally, Melissa is the Indigenous Adviser for the ACPA18 Convention Steering Team, a member of the Native Aboriginal Indigenous Network (NAIN) and a member of the Curricular Resources Advisory Committee for ACPA’s Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization.

Pronouns: She, Her and Hers

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